Four years after facing a massive wave of backlash, Guardians of the Galaxy alum Zoe Saldana has addressed the controversy surrounding her casting as Nina Simone in the 2016 biopic ‘Nina.’
When the film first released in 2016, Saldana was faced with a fierce backlash from critical race theorist critics, with many activists stating that the Afro-Latina actress was not ‘black’ enough to portray the late singer.
Some critics, including CNN entertainment writer Lisa Respers France, accused Saldana of engaging in black face due to the darkening of her skin undertaken to accurately portray Simone in the film.
Saldana’s casting even resulted in direct aggression being leveled against her from the official Twitter handle of the late singer’s estate, who demanded that Saldana ‘take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.”
Simone’s estate described the casting as “painful”, “gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating,” and “soul-crushing.”
On August 4th, Saldana sat down with Steven Canals, the creator and executive producer of the Netflix drama Pose, to “chat Afro-Latinidad & Colorism”.
In the interview, Saldana states that she believes that she “should have never played Nina.”
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Zoe Saldana (@zoesaldana) sits down with "Pose" (@poseonfx) creator and executive producer Steven Canals (@stevencanals) to chat about Afro-Latinidad, colorism in the Latinx community, Nina Simone, and more. #AfroLatinx #AfroLatinidad #BESE #ZoeSaldana #StevenCanals #Pose #PoseFX #AfroLatinos #Dominican #PuertoRican
She continues, ” I should have done everything in my power with the leverage I had ten years ago. I should have tried everything in power to cast a black woman to play an exceptional black woman.”
Saldana then expresses how she felt the entire casting process “was painful” and reasons that the she had undertaken the role of Simone because “I thought back then that I had the permission because I was a Black woman.”
She goes on to praise the late singer, observing that Simone “had a life and a journey that should have been honored to the most specific detail because she was specifically detailed individual; About her voice, her opinion, her views her art, and she was so honest so she deserved better.”
At one point during the interview, Saldana breaks down and delivers a tearful apology to the public, stating “And with that said, I’m sorry, I am so sorry, because I love her music. It wasn’t enough she made it enough, but with that said she’s one of our giants. Somebody else should have stepped up. Somebody else should tell her story”.
Saldana continues, “I’m besotted that Nina Simone, her story hasn’t been like a global f***ing impact when we’re taking her music for car commercials and I’m taking her image, her story and I think I’m ok to tell it.”
The actress then makes the curious argument that she had appropriated her own heritage, claiming “we’ve been appropriating ourselves. Someone like Nina Simone for a very long time, and I just want her story to be told and I want it to be right because she deserves it, and our Americans deserve it because Americans in today’s America deserve her story to be told.”
She then promised, “I know better today and I’m never going to do that again. Never.”
As the interview comes to a close, Saldana explains that “So bad, I’m learning, I’m still processing it. Processing for ten years and I think it’s a conversation I want to have. I’m not going to allow people to violate me to make me feel less than.”
She then pledged, “I am going to be open to this conversation so that we can grow from it and we can we can give back to ourselves and to each other, our identity for its about time.”
This isn’t the first time a black actor or actress has come under fire for not being black enough to take on a role. Back in March of 2019, critics claimed that superstar Will Smith wasn’t back enough to play the father of tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams.
What do you think of Zoe Saldana’s views on her role as the singer Nina Simone and not being black enough to take on the role?